With just three races left to go in this year’s season, the final slot on the 2022 Formula One grid has been filled. After Kimi Raikkonen finally announced his retirement and Valtteri Bottas filled his seat at Alfa Romeo, it was only the Finn’s teammate that was left to be announced. That’s been filled now by the first-ever Chinese F1 driver to have a full-time seat in F1, Guanyu Zhou.
Zhou’s currently racing in Formula 2, where he’s second in the standings with six races remaining in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi. Zhou’s not had a shabby season by any means, having taken three victories and a further four podium finishes, which given F2 has been really hard to be consistent in this year, is definitely not dawdling.
You’ll hear more than a bit about how Zhou’s a pay driver because of his sponsor Weichai, the Chinese state’s diesel engine company. However, he has more than earned his super license and isn’t even in one of the particularly dominant F2 teams (where the cars are all theoretically the same but there’s a lot of disparity in maintenance and engineering). And Weichai is hardly the most suspect money to be coming into F1 behind a driver, frankly.
Previously, Chinese touring car and Formula E driver Ma Qinghua had two seasons being linked to the HRT team as a development driver. He was the first Chinese driver to have a role in a grand prix weekend, having driven a first practice session in Narain Karthikeyan’s car in 2012 but never actually secured a race seat.
“I dreamt from a young age of climbing as high as I can in a sport that I am passionate about and now the dream has come true,” Zhou said about signing to Alfa Romeo. “It is a privilege for me to start my F1 racing career with an iconic team, a team that has introduced so much young talent into F1 in the past. Now the dream is reality.”
He’s not wrong there. Alfa Romeo is a rebadging of Sauber, where a lot of drivers (including Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc) made their starts. Still, Zhou will have his work cut out; there are big changes coming for 2022, with a radical rework of the rules intended to let drivers race closer by fixing the “dirty air” problem caused by current aerodynamics. And even if Bottas hasn’t shone up against the impossible standards of Lewis Hamilton, he’s going to be tough opposition for a rookie to stack up against.
Zhou seems chill about it, though, saying he feels “well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the pinnacle of my sport, alongside a proven, world-class talent in Valtteri Bottas.” He called his signing “a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history” and said, “I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more.”
Antonio Giovinazzi, who loses the Alfa Romeo seat to Zhou, is off to new pastures. He’s been announced as the second driver at Dragon-Penske in Formula E, alongside Sergio Sette-Camara, after previously running an FE rookie test for Virgin in 2018. His hair was way too nice for F1 anyway, so I’m glad he’s coming to us.
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